Beer 511

Exploring the Craft Beer and Homebrew Scenes in Peru (Country Code 51) and the USA (Country Code 1)

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Peru’s Craft Beer Explosion

Beer in Peru, as elsewhere, has been undergoing a process of concentration of ownership and production decisions for many decades.  In Peru the process ocurred as the Backus & Johnston’s brewery and the Cerveceria del Sur each out-competed or absorbed local and regional brands, then merged under the Backus & Johnston umbrella, and then itself be bought by ABInbev a few years ago. As result, many styles of beer faded from memory to be replaced with macro-produced lagers.

There were always upstarts and holdouts, of course, but in time they all succumbed. Even, it seems, the well-funded Tres Cruces brand from the AJE Group, an international beverage corporation founded in Ayacucho by the Añaños family.

In the past decade, however, there has been a different set of breweries developing, who played by different rules. – producing small amounts, self-distributing, and putting out a wider variety of styles. However, even though there were rumours of craft breweries in Lima, they were all but invisible, and there was only one brewpub – the Cerveceria De Tomás (later renamed Mi CebiChela) on Ave. Rosa Toro.

Then, three years ago -it seemed all of a sudden- craft brew bubbled up and burst on to the scene. The Cerveza Cumbres brand from Cerveceria Gourmet had made it into some high-end restaurants, and Barbarian and Sierra Andina had managed to get shelf space in supermarkets. Barranco Beer Company had opened a high-profile brewpub, and was soon followed by Barbarian and Nuevo Mundo opening their own taprooms.

Today, there are some two dozen craft beer brands being produced in Lima alone: Ágora, Amarílis, Barbarian, Barranco Beer Co., Beer Stache, Brewson, Brutus, Candelaria, Chinekus, Costumbres, Cumbres, Curaka, De Tomás, Greenga, Hops, Invictus, Jaya Brew, Kennel, Lima Brew, Maddok, Magdalena, Melquiades, Nuevo Mundo, Oveja Negra, Santos Demonios, Saqra, Siete Vidas, Sumaq, Teach, Tío Luque, and Zenith.

Outside of Lima, we find Machay, Mamacha Carmen, and Melkim in Arequipa; Cervecería del Valle Sagrado in Urubamba; Amarus, Oráculo, and Perro Calato in Ayacucho; Dörcher Bier in Pozuzo; Wayayo in Huancayo; and Sierra Andina in Huaráz.  There is also a lone meadery: Ragnarok, situated on the outskirts of Lima, in Pachacámac.  (There are, surely, other small breweries but because their products rarely make it into the Lima market they don’t get the exposure.)

Many of the above were partially, or wholly, founded by foreigners -French, North Americans, Australians, Indians- who settled Peru, or Peruvians who had lived abroad and had come into contact with the European and North American homebrewing and craft brewing communities. Although some of them are well-appointed microbreweries, most would qualify as nano-breweries, and some are not much more than skilled home breweries who are able to package and sell their product.

Many, perhaps most, started by advertising on their own FaceBook pages and taking orders directly  from customers over the phone for delivery within their respective cities. Online vendors, such as La Barra de Grau, La Bodega Cervecera, and 1518 Chela, helped spread the word and provincial brewers to break into the Lima market.  They have been joined in the past year by two brick-and-mortar craft beer bottle shops in Lima: La Bodega Cervecera’s own retail store in Surco, and La Cerveteca, which opened 8 months ago in Miraflores.

In the meantime, Barranco Beer Company has opened stands in other points of Lima and in a couple in other cities, and Barbarian is opening a second taproom in Lima.   Maddok and La Candelaria have joined Sierra Andina and Barbarian on the shelves in major grocery store chains. Craft beer is increasingly finding its way into restaurants, bars, and cafes, and magazines, newspapers and television programs frequently run features craft beer and the best places to get it.

Craft beer is still but a miniscule part of the Peruvian beer market, but it is one that is getting increasing attention, and is clearly here to stay.

 

Beer Review: Saca Tu Machete

I’m in Peru at the moment, and last night I went to the Barranco Beer Company‘s brewpub in Lima for the 2017 Saca Tu Machete release.

Saca Tu Machete is a 9% abv, 55 IBU, imperial stout brewed with algarrobina syrup, native limo hot peppers, and Tettnang, Chinook, and Columbus hops.

The beer is hearty without being “chewy” or cloying. There is some coffee in the nose and in the taste, as well as some chocolate and raisin notes –probably contributed by the algarrobina.  While there is no discernible alcoholic “heat”, the limo peppers provide a pleasing undertone of “warmth” throughout, but particularly at the back end, but without making the beer at all spicy.

Despite the relatively high hopping rate, Saca Tu Machete is not an overtly bitter beer. In fact, it is a bit sweet.  If you like dark beers and beers with a lot of flavor but without the bitterness of, say, an IPA, this is one to try.

The beer is available at Barranco Beer Company’s brewpub in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood (Av. Almirante Grau #308) on tap with nitrogen and in 24 oz. bottles.

Faction Brewing (Alameda, CA)

Just a few images from my visit to Faction Brewing in Alameda on June 3rd.

Monterey Coast Brewing Co. (Salinas, CA)

Monterey Coast Brewing Co., is located about 10 miles inland, in downtown Salinas, and has been around for at least a dozen years. Until recently it was Salinas’ only brew-on-premises establishment open to the public. (Monterey’s Alvarado Street Brewery now has a production facility in Salinas with an attached tap room.) The brewpub is actually located in what was originally a bank, and later was a gun smith’s and armory, below the studios of a now long-defunct public radio station that I worked at while in high school. Thus, I have a fondness for the place, and have lunched there on several occasions.

The restaurant has a simple, old-fashioned wood bar with a over a dozen taps, backed up by what looks like four or five 10-bbl fermenters.

A curious detail I noticed on my latest visit is that the mash tun has two manways. It appears that the orientation of the original one must not have allowed enough space for comfortably removing the spent grain given its proximity to the nearby wall, and thus a second manway was cut into the tun.

I’ve always enjoyed the food there, and when they say on their website that it is “where the locals eat”, it is no mere marketing or exaggeration.

Of course, the main reason I chose to dine there when I’m in Salinas is to support a local, independent brewer.  Which, brings us to the beer:

Monterey Coast Brewing has a modest lineup of eight house beers, ranging from a pale ale to a stout. Given that they only sell the beer on premises ($7 32-oz growler refill on Thursdays!), it is probably prudent that they keep the number manageable.

From L to R: Scottish Red, IPA, Belgian Ale

On this visit, I ordered a flight for the first time, tasting five of their beers. This horizontal sampling allowed me to discern a notably similar character in their brews.  I expect that the brew staff has perhaps been harvesting  the yeast from one brew for use in the next, and that, over time, it may have evolved into “house” strain.

I’ve never found their beers to be outstanding, but always enjoyable, albeit with a few allowances –for example, the IPA doesn’t fully deliver on the “heavily hopped…intense and complex” character promised in the description.  One’s most solid bets, I think, are the pale ale, the porter, and the stout.

 

Monterey Coast Brewing Company
165 Main St.
Salinas, California

montereycoastbrewing.com

A bit of Peru beer history

This is an image that I came across online.  It’s an early advertising poster from the Backus & Johnston Brewery Company in Lima, from back when telephone numbers in the city could be counted in the double-digits.

The poster remarks that the brewery -which started as an ice company- possessed a “magnificent” ice facility imported from the U.S.A., and that it’s beer-making equipment was “the best and largest in South America.”

Most notable, however, from a consumer standpoint is the variety of beers made by Backus & Johnston back then: Pilsen, export, lager, märzen, stout, and a dark beer labeled “Gato Negro” (black cat).

Decades later, their production had grown massively, and the company itself had expanded into a near brewing monopoly -the Unión de Cerverías Peruanas Backus & Johnston- having absorbed other breweries throughout the country.   At the same time, despite the expansion in the number of the company’s brands and volume, the beer variety shrank. By the turn of the century the only ones that had survived were the pale lager and a dark lager.

In the past decade, however, the company has started to break out of that straight jacket, albeit cautiously.  It has used its Cusqueña brand to float a few “special” beers: Cusqueña Trigo (pale lager made with a percentage of wheat), Cusqueña Quinoa (made, obviously, with some quinoa), and Cusqueña Red Lager.  It has also dipped its toe into the “top shelf” market with Abraxas, a beer it describes as a “super premium” and sells for 400% of the price point of its regular beers.

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